This month’s PaperTigers issue is all about India. I recently stumbled on a great graphic novel resource for young people about what it is like being an Indian American visiting India for the first time. The book is called Indian by Choice by Amit Dasgupta, Art by Neelabh (Wisdom Tree, 2009.) Mandy is a second generation Indian American, born and raised in Chicago. Because of unforeseen family events (his mother has been in an accident), Mandy must go to India alone for the wedding of his cousin Gurinder in Delhi. His trip is for four weeks and he is unsure and tentative about the whole thing. Beginning with the flight, he is amongst other Indians and Indian Americans, one of whom sitting beside him questions Mandy aggressively about his name: “Mandy? Arrey dost, Mandeep kaho na, ya Maninder. What is this Mandy nonsense?” Of course, Mandy knows his name is short for ‘Mandeep’ but as far as he is concerned he is “Mandy” all the way.
Although Mandy does not have a very good attitude towards visiting his parents’ homeland, luckily his relatives are a warm, loving and hospitable bunch. And it is this aspect of the book that I found most rewarding to read about. I remember my own first time adult visit to Japan in high school. The hospitality shown to me by my extended family there made me both proud of and more curious about my Japanese heritage.
The Indian diaspora is huge. In Canada, we refer to Indians from the subcontinent as either Indo-Canadian or South Asian. Indo Canadians have a long history in Canada and also come from all parts of India as well as neighboring Pakistan. Mandy’s story, I’m sure, will certainly not be unfamiliar to many! Although I have read books written by authors of Indian descent about their cultural identities, this is the first time I’ve seen a book published on the topic from an Indian press which makes Indian by Choice rather unique. The story is also told in an amalgam of graphics, e-mail texts and photographs which makes for a different style of presentation — a style I’m not entirely sold on, but found nontheless intriguing to look at and read. At the back of the book is an informative essay containing some interesting facts about India and the Indian diaspora by author Amit Dasgupta who is himself, an Indian diplomat.